61. Public Reception of Church Members—General Provisions
Only those may be admitted to full communion in the church who have been baptized and have made public profession of faith in Jesus Christ.
In order to aid those who contemplate making public profession or reaffirmation of faith in Christ to understand the implication of this significant act and to perform it meaningfully, the pastor or someone approved by the session shall conduct classes in Christian doctrine and life, both for the children of the church and for any others who may manifest an interest in the way of salvation.
In order for the session to assure itself so far as possible that the candidate makes a credible profession, it shall examine him to ascertain that he possesses the knowledge requisite for saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, relies on the merits of Christ alone, and is determined by the grace of God to lead a Christian life.
In the public reception of church members, the minister shall follow the directions prescribed in this chapter, but he is not required to use the exact language of the forms (below), which are suggested as appropriate. He may employ these or similar forms, using his own liberty and godly wisdom as he deems best for the edification of the people.
Whether baptized or unbaptized, children of communing members are non-communing members of the particular church and come to the Lord’s Table, also, by a credible profession of faith. Normally such professions should be actively sought in the regular course of the elder board’s shepherding work. Because God has limited the ability of infants and very young children to articulate a credible profession of faith, demonstrate the fruit of repentance, and discern the Lord’s body, they do not yet qualify for admission to communicant membership and the Lord’s Table. For further explanation, see BCO 1.3.
If they have been baptized, non-communing members of the congregation may be received into communicant membership by profession of faith.
Calvin’s process for allowing covenant children to come to the Lord’s Supper is described by Scott Manetsch as follows: “By the time that students completed their studies at the schola privata at age eleven or twelve, they would have worked through Calvin’s Catechism six or seven times and most would have mastered its doctrinal contents. It is important to note, however, that admission to the Lord’s Table was not tied directly to a child’s level of schooling or age. The Ecclesiastical Ordinances made clear that boys and girls were welcomed to the Lord’s Supper only after they had reached the age of discretion (around ten years of age) and were able satisfactorily to articulate the basic doctrines of the reformed religion and confess it as their own. Toward that end, four times a year on the Sunday before Geneva’s quarterly communion service, young people who were prepared to confess their Christian faith stood in front of the worshiping congregation and, in response to the ministers’ questions, recited the shortened form of the Catechism that served as their formal profession of faith. A week later, they were invited for the first time to feed upon the body and blood of Jesus Christ offered in the sacred meal of the Lord’s Table.” Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609 (Oxford University Press, 2013), 270-71.
Additionally: “Another primary source, though, describes the age of discretion and Geneva’s children coming to the Lord’s table as between ages eight and ten: ‘Throughout all this, somebody else reads from the pulpit in the vernacular, with head uncovered, the Gospel of Saint John, from the beginning of the thirteenth chapter, until everyone has taken their pieces, both men and women, each one at their different tables, along with the boys and girls of around eight to ten years of age.’” Ibid., 275, quoting Antoince Cathelan, Passevent Parisien, 74.